They're the bane of business communication--the inelegant expressions sales and service experts call "killer words." They're the bloopers that divert customers and prospects away from the message you are trying to convey.

These are common expressions we use every day. So what should you do? The solution is easier said than done: Just stop it. Practice eliminating these poisonous words from your vocabulary.

These five expressions (plus a few inglorious runner-ups) are the worst of the worst. If you care about your business and customers, you'll promise to shed these phrases today:

1. "No Problem."

This sounds polite, but the customer is actually thinking, "When did I become a problem?" We can thank our helpful restaurant servers, especially on cruises, for this one. When we take a cruise and ask for anything at all, what's the first thing the waiter says? "No problem!"

On a cruise the vernacular might be okay, but back home the right responses should be: "Of course." "You're welcome." "My pleasure." "I'm happy to help."

Any of these options express your willingness to help. But "no problem" is a conversation killer you are best to avoid.

2. "Our computers are so slow."

Yeah, it's an excuse. And while everybody's computer runs slow at least once in awhile, when you complain about your computer, you appear to be complaining about your company, too. You are inadvertently reinforcing the customer's complaint.

Take the time to be humorous, or strike a conversation like this: "While my computer brings this up, how's the rest of your day going?" Ask a question that shows your genuine interest and let the customer talk.

3. "Calm Down."

Yes, this makes the hair on the back of everyone's neck stand up. It is condescending. When someone is told to "calm down," invariably their next words are, "Don't you tell me to calm down!"

There are times when the client may need to vent. Your job is to listen and validate at the appropriate times with empathetic expressions and wording.

Telling a customer how to handle their emotions as if they were your four-year-old child, however, is a terrible plan.

4. "It's not our policy."

Every company has policies. But blurting this out as if it's a roadblock is a bad way to go.

Think about rephrasing the policy in a gentler and more positive way. "Because we're privately held, we can't discuss our forecast for [new product revisions, shipping forecasts, etc.] in advance. But here's what we can do: Can I take down your name? Or can I offer you this alternative as an interim upgrade?"

When there's rejection involved, state it gently and frame it in the context of easing the customer's discomfort. They will love you for this.

Or perhaps you could say, "Normally we're not able to allow last minute changes. But let me see what I can possibly do."

The policy is the same, but now you're a hero.

5. "Yes, but..."

When there's a "but" involved, the customer knows a negative rebuttal is coming.

If you've ever said, "I love working with you so much, but..." There's a condition coming, isn't there? Consider this alternative instead. "Yes, we can ship that extra package. There is, however, an additional fee. Do you want me to send it for you?"

And, for advanced credit, here are three runner-up expressions you should also avoid:

6. "Can I be honest with you?"

"No, go ahead and lie to me," the customer is thinking in dismay. Psychologists note that people who are chronically saying things like, "I won't lie to you," "to be perfectly honest," etc., are generally the people who most notoriously lie. The buffer expressions are a psychological "tell" they are using as a subconscious subterfuge to keep others from observing the truth. But it doesn't work.

7. "What was your name again?"

"It's the same as it was the last time I said it 20 seconds ago," the customer is thinking. Aren't you listening?"

If you really must ask again, do so with a genuine apology as you look the individual straight in the eye. And make a concerted effort to pay more attention, particularly where names are concerned.

8. "You don't understand what I'm saying."

Blaming the customer for your lack of clarity will never go well. Instead, perhaps, "Let me say that another way, and thanks for your patience." Much better.

So the next time you catch yourself or any of your staff in these objectionable phrases, take the time to stop, re-frame and rephrase. Your customers (and your profitability) will thank you.

My thanks to customer service expert Nancy Friedman for her suggestion of the "eight great" phrases above.

Published on: Jan 6, 2017